Ho Ho No: Ice on Top of Snow — Bad for Humans and Reindeer Too

Starving reindeer in Sweden’s Arctic      Photo: Malin Moberg

Here in sunny (well actually foggy) Spain, severe weather is at the center of many climate discussions — the changing climate is leading to weird weather that is wreaking havoc with natural systems and impacting humans and biodiversity in ways we did not anticipate.  An Associated Press report earlier this week went viral because it hits a little too close to home this time of year — unusual weather patterns are causing reindeer to go hungry because as rain (as opposed to snow) falls during the winter in the Arctic, it creates thick layers of snowy ice that blocks their access to food.  In much of the U.S. we will likewise be battered with a “parade” of combo snow/ice storms for the days until Christmas, snarling all kinds of travel plans.

Why This Matters: Ice on the ground is only good in skating rinks and Disney movies.  When ice layers with snow it is a huge headache for the communities that have to deal with it — reindeer or human.  Ice requires more salt and sand to move and melt than snow, and it is not easy to plow, not to mention being more dangerous for all kinds of travel from walking to airplanes.  These combo storms seem to be happening more often in a wider swath of the planet — it rains in the Arctic in months when it used to only snow, and Arctic air sweeps down into the lower reaches of the U.S. causing ice storms where it used to only rain.  Time to adapt — for all creatures on the planet.  

Where’s Rudolph?

The story of starving reindeer fits a familiar pattern — the herds are already under pressure from mining and timber harvest and other development that encroach on grazing land.  Traditional Sami herding communities in Sweden fear that climate change could mean the end of their traditional lifestyle.  It could spell the end for our most enduring holiday symbols too.  This year, unusually early snowfall in autumn was followed by rain that froze, trapping food under a thick layer of ice and as a result, the hungry reindeer hungry scattered from their traditional migration routes in search of new grazing grounds.  Herders went looking for the animals in the high mountains hoping to bring the animals down to their traditional habitat but to no avail.  

Parade of Storms in the U.S.

The Accuweather meteorologist grinches have forecast a tenacious weather pattern that will yield more frequent storms than normal – every two to four days – across the central and eastern U.S. all the way through Christmas Day.  They predict these back to back storms will have “a significant negative impact on travel and shipping prior to the holidays.”  Merry Christmas and be careful out there.

Map: Accuweather

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